Friday, September 28, 2007

Downsized and Looking

It’s been 4 months since Saks Corporate offices closed here in Birmingham. Conversations with co-workers at the coffee pot or in the café are no more. They’ve been replaced with soliloquies and on-line chatrooms. I understand now, why in times gone by people would write ‘Dear Diary’. Besides my cat, and a few phone calls and e-mails, most of my conversations are conducted on the pages of my journal - sometimes transcribed to laptop and now to this my blogspot. My journal is my sounding board, and confidante more now than ever it was before. It is my companion at my corner table at Starbucks, as most of the people I know are either back to work or retreated to full-time mommydom. Either way, I have plenty of time in and around my job search to write and write some more.

I’ve been unemployed before. I was with Complete Health, the HMO, when they lost the State Teachers account to Blue Cross, Blue Shield, and gave a hundred or so of us our walking papers. I was with VNA (Visiting Nurse Association) when they were being mismanaged into bankruptcy – I jumped when I saw the writing on the wall.

The job search has changed radically from the mid 90’s to now. It has become so very impersonal. The largest companies require that you post resumes on their website, and I don’t expect to hear from a person ever. Southern Company’s automated system, sends me e-mails that say my qualifications meet the criteria for a job and I log on and click ‘submit’. I’ve done this 4 times and have yet to get any e-mails asking to meet me in person, let alone hear from that person. Calling them got me nowhere.

There are the companies that won’t tell you who they are and ask that you fax a resume to some number. It may well be a company you would never apply to, but then again, it may be a plummy opportunity – my bet is the former. Anyone who is ashamed to say his or her name might well be someone I’d be ashamed to work for. A thorough job search requires that I leave no stone unturned, so I fax my resume anyway.

Then there are the truly anonymous companies, who hand over the search for new employees to employment agencies. These agencies post vague blanket ads, which to me are the equivalent of the retail industries ‘loss leader’ ads. The job advertised in such glowing terms is always ‘filled’ or no longer available. My bet is it never was available.

There is ambivalence in me. I miss the office and all that it entails, but I love sitting here by the open window conducting my job search, and writing, writing, writing. I send out resumes, search the jobsites, drop into the chats, send out poems to some literary journals, post my blog, and work on my long neglected novel. I could get used to this, if only there was someone down the hall at the coffee pot to chat with now and then.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Where Oh Where is My Cell

Where, oh where, is my cell phone? I panicked, as I was dressed and ready to walk out the door for my early morning 5-mile hike. Dial the number and follow the ring I told myself. There it is, faint, maybe the balcony. As I rushed to the balcony, it got louder and louder, then stopped before I could find it. It's o:dark:thirty in the morning, the light's blown out, and I can't see a thing out here.

Well, it's here somewhere. Dial the number again and surely, I'll find it next try. After all, I’m already on the balcony - right. There it goes - darn, it's right here somewhere, maybe it fell between the walls. I lean down and look under the table in the corner and it gets really loud before it turns off again.

Rats, I was really close. One more try, and I'm rearranging furniture chasing the elusive ring tones. I'm about to try one more time, when my pocket starts beeping loudly at me. I reach in to retrieve my errant cell to find I have 3 missed calls.

I really need to drink a serious cup of coffee before my morning walk.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Book Review Monday - The Blessing Box

I read several books a month and I review some of the newer ones for various publications. I’ll be sharing some of my book reviews with you on Mondays beginning today. Some have been previously published; some have been written just for this Blog. Today a slim book of poems.

The Blessing Box - By: Maria Morrison

Is Maria Morrison’s The Blessing Box a memoir told in poems, or pieces of other lives glimpsed and absorbed into her soul and retold in first person? I don’t know. I do know what reaches me in every poem is the ‘I’, and the ‘My’.

The feeling is most poignant in the poem The Hours: “my mother photographed/the hours we had/each day between /my father leaving the house/and my father returning…I pull them out/to remember what we were/supposed to be.”

In Constellations: “Each night,/crystals of frost form like stars/on our bedroom windows/from our warm breath asking-/When should we go for help? When / can we come back in?”

The lines are simple and straightforward, as a child telling us her secret. We lean close, and say, yes, or oh, no! This is not an easy childhood we are invited to witness. This slim volume is a life told in vignettes stripped achingly bare. It seduces us in the early pages with sunshine and prayer, and then it takes us farther into dark corners and asks us to read between the lines. This is poetry noire It opens up parts of our own soul we do not know we have until a turn of phrase echoes deep and resonates throughout our being and reminds each of us our own fragile childhood and how it shaped our lives.

Morrison wears no rose-colored glasses, as she looks back on her childhood and then at the woman it created. The naked words seem stark with a matter-of-fact and childlike narrative voice that flashes back to past hurts that repeat in each generation. We witness her innocence flee before love that hurts, and her hope hang by a slender thread. In Monastic, she tells us her siblings were each named for those who came before and how the cycle continued, but she ends with, “I am their last./I have my own name.”

I hear an echo of the women in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club. An-Mei: “My mother not know her worth until too late – too late for her but not for me.” And again, Suyuan to her daughter June “I see you.”

If this is Maria Morrison’s story, it is between the lines that the full tale is told. I read The Blessing Box, and know it’s not too late. I see you; I see me. I have my own name.

First published in First Draft Magazine and posted on
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Friday, September 21, 2007

Laptop in the Kitchen

I love my little laptop. It makes working on the computer so much more fun because it is so flexible. With the remote DSL, I can work on anything anywhere: the balcony, the kitchen, the corner café...

I spent most of the summer on the balcony sipping iced coffee, inputting my novel and watching life go by on the street below.

With cooler weather coming, I’ll spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Of all the rooms in all the homes that I lived in as a child, the ones I remember best are the kitchens. They were always light and warm and cozy, and they always smelled of good things.

As I sit here in my own kitchen sipping my spicy chocolate coffee, the white chili simmering on the stove sends spirals of steam to further fog the kitchen windows as will the jalapeno cornbread later in the day. The aromas, mixed with other scents, take me back in time and I remember those other kitchens – Mom’s.

Coming home from school, each of us children would stop in the kitchen and Mom would hand us a bowl to stir, a pot to watch or onions to chop, cheese to grate. We’d sit on a counter or stand at the stove and share our day with her. She would listen to it all and laugh at the old jokes that each of us discovered new as we grew, and pretend they were new to her, too.

There were five of us, three boys and two girls, and we all learned to cook just by doing and watching while Mom did what Mom always did. She was in the kitchen when we left for school in the morning and she was there when we came home from school, be it 2 or 3 or 4 o’clock. Food for her was not a fast food affair. It was prepared in seemingly infinite diversity from scratch.

Saturdays, Sundays and holidays would find Daddy in the kitchen, too. He’d show us how to flip eggs over-easy and pancakes without a spatula or try a new recipe from one of the big cookbooks with no pictures. Mom would threaten that she’d have to put the stove in the yard and hose it down before she could use it again. Then she’d laugh, sip her coffee and shake her head at some of our misses an messes. I learned a lot about cooking in those kitchens and more about love.

We’re all grown now, and Daddy’s long passed, but we still gather to build more memories. We go to Mom’s or my place, my sister’s or one of my brother’s. Whichever home we gather in over the years, the chores are still shared. We still create new dishes, we stir and chop and mix and taste, and recall old recipe successes and failures. Or, we just pull up a stool to the kitchen bar and chat, sip our coffee or tea, a glass of wine or a beer and discuss the small matters that make up our lives: the new car, in-laws, ex’s, jobs, and whether it will rain tomorrow. We remember some various Christmases and Thanksgivings by the food we made. “Remember that yellow squash cornbread dressing that was so good, or the wild rice ring that let go its Portobello gravy center before it made it to the table?”

We set the table, say the blessing, pour the wine and break the bread and after the meal is over, we linger, sated before empty plates, loathe to break the circle. © Perle Champion